Hard time understanding bodily fabrications

I believe I have a sense of verbal and mental fabrications but not bodily. The suttas say the breath is a bodily fabrication. But breathing is natural how are we fabricating it?

By producing the kamma that leads to rebirth in a body that breathes

I take it to mean that breathing is “made” by the body.

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There are many different opinions on this. However, if we carefully study the texts (SN 41.6 & MN 44), about the verbal sankharo, they say:

First you place the mind (vitakka) and keep it connected (vicara), then you break into speech. That’s why placing the mind and keeping it connected are verbal processes.

The above example shows thought (vitakka & vicara) is a pre-condition or necessary cause for speech. This example indicates each of the sankharo (body, verbal & mind) are pre-conditions or fabricating conditions. In agreement, the dictionary logically says:


  1. antecedent for speech


mental coefficients requisite for act, speech, thought: kāya˚, vacī˚ citta˚… described respectively as “respiration,” “attention and consideration,” “percepts and feelings,” “because these are (respectively) bound up with,” or “precedethose


If a person’s life ends due to drowning, a life saver can restore the life of the person by doing mouth to mouth resuscitation. This shows the breathing is the condition for the life of the physical body. This is why we can murder a person using poisonous gas or choking. The life of the body depends upon the breath.

If we play sports, the potential performance of the physical body depends on cardo-vascular fitness. If the breathing is unfit, we will lack endurance in playing sports.

Similarly, with the Path, developing a calm body & mind require making the breathing calm. If the breathing is not calm; the body & mind will not be calm. Therefore, based on these realities and based on the Pali dictionaries, it seems the Pali “kaya sankhara” should be translated as “fabricating condition for the body” (rather than “bodily fabrications”).

This is where I get lost. I would want to avoid a mental fabrication such as perceiving my boss is a monster. Or my neighbor is annoying. And avoid a verbal fabrication such as a lie. Or frivolous speech. Or mental speech such as I’m a horrible human or I’m a great person. But what is wrong with a bodily fabrication that isn’t killing stealing etc. ? I can kind of get perhaps a body was fabricated between rebirths, idk am I making a sense here?

Yes, you are getting lost in language because (as the dictionary says) sankhara is one of those words with the broadest range of meanings. To summarize my personal interpretations:

  1. SN 41.6 & MN 44 say:

Assāsapassāsā kho kāyasaṅkhāro - in & out breathing is the kāyasaṅkhāro

vitakkavicārā vacīsaṅkhāro - initial-&-sustained thought is the vacīsaṅkhāro

saññā ca vedanā ca cittasaṅkhāro - perception & feeling are the cittasankaro

It seems, per my previous post, the breathing, thought and perception-feeling are antecedent conditions for the body, speech & states of mind. For example, pleasant feelings can condition a greedy mind (citta) and unpleasant feeling can condition an angry mind (citta).

MN 118, as you know, uses the terms kāyasaṅkhāro in step 4 & cittasaṅkhāro in steps 7 & 8. Here, cittasaṅkhāro is found in the satipatthana about feelings (vedana) therefore this is obviously what cittasaṅkhāro is, namely, “feelings”, per the definitions in SN 41.6 & MN 44.


The above can be contrasted with the teachings about kamma, which refer to:

Firstly, a certain person makes hurtful choices by way of body, speech, and mind.

Idha, bhikkhave, ekacco puggalo sabyābajjhaṁ kāyasaṅkhāraṁ abhisaṅkharoti, sabyābajjhaṁ vacīsaṅkhāraṁ abhisaṅkharoti, sabyābajjhaṁ manosaṅkhāraṁ abhisaṅkharoti.

AN 3.23

Here, the terms kāyasaṅkhāraṁ, vacīsaṅkhāraṁ & manosaṅkhāraṁ are used to describe the three types of intention/choices/kamma.

The linguistic difference between the six Pali terms above is:

  • kāyasaṅkhāro, vacīsaṅkhāro & cittasaṅkhāro are nouns in “nominative case”, referring to discrete things.

  • kāyasaṅkhāraṁ, vacīsaṅkhāraṁ & manosaṅkhāraṁ are in what is called “accusative case”, which means they are objects of "doing/a “verb”. The verb above is “abhisaṅkharoti”, which means “to generate/makes”.

Therefore, about the above:

  • For the sake of simplicity, perceiving your boss is a monster is a perception/cittasankharo that has the potential to fabricate (sankhara) your mind (citta) to become angry. If your mind (citta) actually becomes (sankhara) angry at your boss and fabricates (sankhara) all sorts of hateful revengeful thoughts about your boss, this anger & revengeful thoughts are manosaṅkhāraṁ. (Note: my view here is not common).
  • A verbal fabrication such as a lie is a “vacīsaṅkhāraṁ” rather than a “vacīsaṅkhāro”. To repeat, SN 41.6 & MN 44 clearly say “vacīsaṅkhāro” are thoughts that cause speech. Therefore, “vacīsaṅkhāro” is thoughts; and “vacīsaṅkhāraṁ” is speech/verbal kamma/activity.
  • Mental speech such as I’m a horrible human or I’m a great person is either a “vacīsaṅkhāro” (which can cause you to boast via speech) or, otherwise, a “manosaṅkhāraṁ” (acts of mental kamma/activity).
  • A bodily fabrication such as killing & stealing is called “kāyasaṅkhāraṁ”. Remember, the “kāyasaṅkhāro” is the breathing.
  • A body fabricated between rebirths again would be “kāyasaṅkhāraṁ”, because it is generated (abhisaṅkharoti) by intention/choices.

Again, I imagine many Buddhist scholars would disagree with my viewpoints above because Theravada Buddhism, including Abhidhamma, generally says kāyasaṅkhāro, vacīsaṅkhāro & cittasaṅkhāro are intentions/volitions/choices. The orthodox ‘Theravada/Abhidhamma’ position seems to be the definitions in SN 41.6 & MN 44 only apply to the content in those two suttas and do not necessarily apply to MN 118 or SN 12.2. :slightly_smiling_face:

“fabrication” might be giving you the wrong idea @JoeL . Sankharas are anything that exists in a contingent sense, so you talk because you have thoughts to express, if a thought never entered your head you wouldn’t have anything to say, you have a mind contingent on feelings and perceptions, if you never felt or perceived anything then you would be mindless. You have a body because you breath. If you stop breathing your body will die.

so sankhara means any state of affairs whatever that is “conditional” or “contingent” or “made up of parts”

So ALL your thoughts are a fabrication not just the bad ones, and your mind is ALL a fabrication, not just the bad parts, similarly your whole body is a fabrication, made up of food, completely dependent on breathing to continue to be.

So just to recap, fabrications doesn’t mean that “we” are doing it, it is used to refer to anything that is compounded out of other things, which is basically everything ever, apart from the unconditional freedom referred to by Nibanna


To add:

What you feel, you perceive. What you perceive, you think about. What you think about, you proliferate.

MN 18

Being so full of favoring and opposing, when they experience any kind of feeling—pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral—they approve, welcome, and keep clinging to it. This gives rise to relishing. Relishing feelings is grasping.

MN 38

When you experience a pleasant feeling, if you approve, welcome, and keep clinging to it, the underlying tendency to greed underlies that. When you experience a painful feeling, if you sorrow and wail and lament, beating your breast and falling into confusion, the underlying tendency to repulsion underlies that. When you experience a neutral feeling, if you don’t truly understand that feeling’s origin, ending, gratification, drawback, and escape, the underlying tendency to ignorance underlies that.

MN 148

yeah so the argument seems to be that the painful feeling by itself is in some sense neutral, its just one of the types o feeling, but if your habitual “underlying” reaction to that type of feeling is to try and avoid it, to be repulsed by it, then you experience that feeling as distressing and horrible until you can get rid of it.

Training yourself to break the habitual fear of pain and lust for pleasure is the path to freedom.

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You guys rock I really appreciate your time and input. YOU HAVE A BODY BECAUSE YOU BREATH makes perfect sense


Are you saying you can’t feel or know that you are breathing right now? :grin:

How about when you are angry or calm or desire more things, can you feel your breathing? And how can that emotional state affect your body or your breath? Are they becoming tense (aka dukkha) or heavier or lighter?

People forget that they are breathing all the time (until death), when one is still generating heat, there will always be bodily activities.

People just think only when they sit meditate that they can feel the breath or body.

They forget about their breathing or body when they live their daily life.

Or try this:

Run 1 length of football field as fast as you can, and see how your breathing or body change instantly?

Will the body generate more heat, sweat, etc? Will your breathing become heavier from before?

The above is just an example of coarse body activities. These can be observed here and now.


I suppose what I am suggesting is the term “citta” in “cittasankharo” seems not usually related to feelings & perceptions. In the suttas, “citta” seems to refer to defilements/clarity of the mind, such as:

“This mind, mendicants, is radiant.“Pabhassaramidaṁ, bhikkhave, cittaṁ.1.2But it is corrupted by passing corruptions.Tañca kho āgantukehi upakkilesehi upakkiliṭṭhaṁ.1.3An uneducated ordinary person does not truly understand this.Taṁ assutavā puthujjano yathābhūtaṁ nappajānāti.1.4So I say that the uneducated ordinary person has no development of the mind.”Tasmā ‘assutavato puthujjanassa cittabhāvanā natthī’ti vadāmī”ti.

AN 1.51

  1. Cittānupassanā
    And how does a mendicant meditate observing an aspect of the mind?
    Kathañca, bhikkhave, bhikkhu citte cittānupassī viharati?

It’s when a mendicant understands mind with greed as ‘mind with greed,’
Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu sarāgaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘sarāgaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti.
and mind without greed as ‘mind without greed.’
Vītarāgaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘vītarāgaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti.
They understand mind with hate as ‘mind with hate,’
Sadosaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘sadosaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti.
and mind without hate as ‘mind without hate.’
Vītadosaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘vītadosaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti.
They understand mind with delusion as ‘mind with delusion,’
Samohaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘samohaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti.
and mind without delusion as ‘mind without delusion.’
Vītamohaṁ vā cittaṁ ‘vītamohaṁ cittan’ti pajānāti.

MN 10

Therefore, my opinion is feeling & perception as the citta-sankharo refers to how feeling & perception conditions the defilements of greed, hatred & delusion affecting the citta. :dizzy:

However, per MN 43, your post also seemed valid, where there cannot be an arising of consciousness without co-joined feeling & perception. :slightly_smiling_face:

This all makes a great deal sense and has been EXTREMELY helpful. I’m starting to get a good understanding that the body is fabricated without going into details. But when the Buddha mentions calming bodily fabrications during formal meditation does that mean understanding that the body is just a fabrication or to actual calm yourself through breathing

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Calm yourself through breathing.